Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City gatecrashing the established elite is “uncomfortable” for their Premier League rivals.
Famously labelled Manchester United’s ‘noisy neighbours’ by Sir Alex Ferguson, City’s takeover by their Abu Dhabi owners in 2008 and then the appointment of Guardiola as manager in 2016 have led to gradual progress from insignificant upstarts to the dominant force in English football.
City have lifted the Premier League trophy in five of the last six campaigns, including three in a row, while their crowning moment came last season as they emulated Ferguson’s 1998-99 treble-winning side.
Guardiola marvelled at how the fortunes of the clubs have switched ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford, where City could extend their lead between the teams to nine points with a victory.
“Sir Alex was right (at the time), City were not challenging, they were in the middle to bottom,” Guardiola said. “United and Arsenal at the time were the richest ones, that’s why City were there.
“But after that, Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon (Al Mubarak), who took over and made an investment. After that Sir Alex could not expect to know that and not even myself who was in Barcelona.
“We were not in the elite and now we are in the elite, maybe it’s uncomfortable for many things. That is a reality and we want to stay as long as possible.”
United have not won the league since Ferguson’s departure at the end of the 2012-13 season, coming closest under Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, both of whom presided over runners-up finishes.
While Guardiola was adamant United will always be regarded as one of the top English clubs, the Spaniard suspects any chance of bringing back the glory days the red half of Manchester enjoyed under Ferguson is gone because of the number of sides now challenging for honours.
Such has been the trajectories of both clubs over the last decade, Guardiola admitted he does not consider United their biggest rivals – insisting that honour belongs to Liverpool.
Asked if United can dominate again, Guardiola responded: “Maybe not in the way that Sir Alex Ferguson did because back then there were just two or three teams, now there are more with a lot of incredible managers.
“Maybe not in that way but if they take good decisions, with the hierarchy, with the sports director, with the managers, with the players and the same ideas, Manchester United when something happens is in the highlights all day.
“The reputation and the prestige they have is always there. It just needs to click.
“There was one year with Ole that was close. But Liverpool have been our biggest rivals – they made us challenge higher and higher and helped make us a better team in all departments. They challenged us like no other team has done before.”
Erik ten Hag led United to third place last season, as well as winning the Carabao Cup and finishing runners-up to City in the FA Cup final, but they have fluctuated in this campaign with four losses in nine games.
Guardiola pointed out it took him a while before finding sustained success with City, having finished third in his first season in charge in 2016-17.
“It takes time,” Guardiola added. “United is able to win four, five six games in a row. If they do that they will be on top.
“Leave the manager to do the job that here they allowed me to do in my first season when we didn’t win. Give time to the managers and they will do it.”